Josh Nordstrom of Deft Tattoo Studio In Kingsford, Michigan has a long history of helping people. First a soldier in the Army, and then a firefighter. Today, Josh serves the public by creating beautiful works of body art. He's passionate, a workaholic, and devoted to his craft. Here's how Josh hopes to change the future of tattoos in Kingsford, Michigan.
Tell me about Deft Tattoo Studio in Kingsford, Michigan, and the artists:
The shop opened in October of 2013. I had spent many years overseas and decided to come back to the United States. My family is scattered throughout the Midwest and I noticed that this area had a shortage of decent tattoo shops. After a ton of research and milling over the work of the artists in this area, I determined that settling down in Upper Michigan was a good idea. I wanted to bring a higher quality of work and bold, solid color saturations to an area that not many other people seemed to be doing. Shortly after I opened the shop, my cousin introduced me to Erik Lafave and I hired him immediately. We have a good working relationship and friendship that keeps getting better. I recently took on apprentice Andrew Andreopoulos. It took me almost a year to find someone serious enough to take on. His work ethic, desire, artistic ability and responsibility immediately stood out. When I first opened 15 people a week were trying to get on board but none of them really showed any promise in the way they went about it.
From the Army to the fire station…how did you decide to become a tattoo artist?
I have wanted to tattoo since I was a kid. Growing up, my friends’ grandfather was a Navy World War 2 veteran who had collected a lot of tattoos during the war. As kids we would just sit in amazement admiring his hula girls and eagles. Ever since I saw him I knew that I wanted to tattoo.
I started tattooing when I was 19, after meeting an artist at a restaurant I was working in. It took some convincing to actually get a chance to learn anything. There wasn’t really room for a traditional apprentice so I used to hang out with his dad who was a retired artist. I helped build and tune machines with him for free and he explained the basis of machine building and function long before I ever got to try one out. I took to tattooing quickly. I joined the Army a couple years later. I took some time off from tattooing but eventually I had to pick it up again after the seeing the work my friends were getting at some of the shops outside the base gate in Fayetteville, NC. After I got out of the Army I went overseas working as a Defense Contractor. I brought my machines with me and tattooed in many different places around the world.
Finally, after doing a lot different things in my life, I decided that tattooing I the thing I love to do the most.
What Tattooing style do you specialize in?
I like to do fully saturated color pieces that are bold and durable. As far as styles I like to do, I would say all of them. I enjoy all styles and feel comfortable doing anything.
Working in the region I am in right now, it is hard to really specialize in one thing. There is not much of a specialized or “custom” market. One word sums up a lot of our customer requests: “Pinterest”. There really isn’t a tattoo culture here. We are trying to change this, but it is going to be a long road. If I confined myself to one style, I would be out of business here.
How do you find new inspirations for your tattoo designs?
I take what the customer is expressing they want and trying to create something unique and artistically expressive to my style of tattooing.
What personal sacrifices have you made to become a professional tattoo artist?
Everything. I have spent my life savings to open a shop. Spent thousands and thousands of hours tattooing, studying, tattooing and studying some more. I feel like I'm learning something new everyday. I have given up very respectable and lucrative careers to do what I love and I am here to stay. Keeping a family together is hard in this business because it takes up a lot of your time.
Describe a time you where you believe your talent truly helped someone?
I do a lot of memorial tattoos, which are really rewarding. I have had entire families come in for them together after a family member passed and you can tell that you have made a positive contribution to their overcoming such a difficult situation. On the other hand, I have done some tattoos on younger guys that are so excited after you do them that they come in for months thanking you again and again. I love that; it really makes you feel that you have accomplished something significant in their lives.
What is the greatest professional goal you have achieved as a tattoo artist?
Becoming a shop owner was a very significant experience in this long road filled with great people and many, many not so great people that plague this industry. When I opened Deft Tattoo Studio I wanted to offer a drama and drug free, relaxed shop with a comfortable, welcoming environment where there is absolutely no rush. We take our time and provide the highest quality work we are capable of doing. We don’t just slap shit on customers because we can. We try to steer them into wise tattoo decisions and educate them in how it should be done during their tattoo experience to try and steer people away from kitchen and garage tattooing, which is extremely popular here because of the depressed economy.
When you aren’t tattooing, you can be found…
Thinking about, designing or preparing to tattoo.
Not being able to continue doing what I love which is tattooing.
Which other professional tattooists have inspired you?
Too many to mention.
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
If you could change one thing in your past, what might that be?
Worked harder when I was younger to get where I am now sooner.
What are you most proud of?
How would you like to be remembered in the industry?
Someone who tried their hardest to put out the highest quality work and change the stigma that surrounds tattooing in this area to something respectable and positive.
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Images courtesy Josh Nordstrom